Survey Suggests Eager Starlink Users Don't Understand Service Will Have Limited Reach

from the good-luck-with-that dept

So we’ve noted more than a few times that while Elon Musk’s Starlink will be a good thing if you can actually get and afford the service, it’s going to have a decidedly small impact on the broadband industry as a whole. Between 20 and 42 million Americans lack access to broadband entirely, 83 million live under a monopoly, and tens of millions more are stuck under a duopoly (usually your local cable company and a regional, apathetic phone company). In turn, Starlink is going to reach somewhere between 300,000 to 800,000 subscribers in its first few years, a drop in the overall bucket.

Thanks to massive frustration with broadband market failure (and the high prices, dubious quality, and poor customer service that results), users are decidedly excited about something new. But not only are there limited slots due to limited capacity and physics, a lot of those slots are going to get gobbled up by die-hard Elon Musk fans excited to affix Starlink dishes to their boats, RVs, and Cybertrucks. As a result it will be extremely unlikely that most users who truly need the improved option will absolutely be able to get it.

But a new PC Magazine survey continues to make it clear that most consumers don’t quite understand they’ll never actually have the option (especially if they live in a major metro market):

Starlink is expected to come out of beta next month for a broader commercial launch, and has seen 600,000 orders so far. But many of the customers who have signed up say getting a status update from Starlink customer service is effectively impossible. While major Wall Street analysts like Craig Moffett estimate the service may be able to scale to 6 million users over a period of many years, he also notes that guess is extremely optimistic, and will require a significantly updated fleet of 42,000 satellites to achieve.

This all assumes that Starlink will remain financially viable as it works toward that goal, something that’s not really guaranteed in a low-orbit satellite industry that has a history of major failures. And there will be questions about throttling and other restrictions once the network gets fully loaded with hungry users. Again, Starlink will be great for off the grid folks if they can get — and afford — it, but I suspect there’s going to be some heartache when folks excited about the service realize the limitations of its actual reach. And this scarcity is only going to drive even greater interest in a service you probably won’t be able to get anytime soon.

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Companies: spacex, starlink

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Comments on “Survey Suggests Eager Starlink Users Don't Understand Service Will Have Limited Reach”

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6M customers, 42k satellites

Makes ca. 143 customers per cell (satellite). On the ground, putting up a lot of cells (towers) may be physically feasible, and financially viable in order to provide high broadband speeds per cell. The same holding true for satellites just seems very unlikely. Then again, I don’t think Starlink is really intented to bring broadband salvation on Earth. Providing transit communication to SpaceX vehicles and ultimately settlements on the moon and Mars would fit the strategy of Musk really well. After all, earth based operations are just a means to get to Mars, at best still in Musks lifetime.


Starlink vs the Old Guard

This story sounds like a bit of propaganda and smoke to me.
We have been fighting with Bell for YEARS to get them to replace our 60+ year old copper line on our dirt road, and run a cable. The line is so bad that even in FOG it crackles on voice and fax, and we lose the CRAP DSL service that gives us a max of 4Mbps (usually 2-3) on our ‘unlimited’ plan. We could hardly run netflix and a smart bulb on it. We were told we were not worth them running a line up our road, or we could pay 13 grand for it. Our Bell cell service has deteriorated too over the past 5-7 years to an equally abysmal 1 bar we must climb upstairs to get, from the 4 bars we subscribed under. When we complained, we were told to switch our cells to “wifi calling”. Yeah, that’ll help ~eyeroll ~..
Lo and behold – 3 months after we dropped Bell DSL and phone service and switched to Starlink, a guy appeared in our driveway telling us Bell had decided to run fibe up our road.
Do not tell me the major carriers are not feeling the FOMO.


These Comments…

I used to live in a rural area, same story as I’ve read here in the comments. And yes, we were the ONE family who did not have broadband on our road. The cable line ended one house north, and the fiber ended one house south. This would have been perfect for us.

To suggest that StarLink isn’t as good as a landline in the city is completely off the mark. You just can’t GET service if you’ve lived in a farming community for 150 years. It was still easier to walk a quarter mile up the hill to talk to the neighbor than to call them, before cellphones came along. Just to get anywhere near 3MBpS I had to tether my Verizon Droid Eris to the computer. To my knowledge, the new owner of that property still does not have reliable phone service, let alone a broadband internet connection.

Sure, Elon started a lot of great companies. Sure, StarLink is one of them. And sure, if I ever buy that house back, I’ll get StarLink and Solar Roof and PowerWall. Not because I’m a fanboy, but because they are logical solutions to COMMON problems which monopolies have no incentive to fix themselves.


Looking forward to starlink

I’m a rural Hoosier looking forward to Starlink. I get 2 bars LTE and I use it for internet. The only other option is fixed wireless at 3 MB per second. Of course there’s Viasat and Hughesnet but those are awful due to the data caps and latency.

My LTE can be anywhere from 15-50 GB per second. It’s great in the mornings but not so good in the afternoons when more people are using the cell tower.

I’ve signed up for Starlink forever ago and I’m slated to have it by mid to the end of the year. I work in IT from home and have kids. Needless to say, we highly use the internet.

I will admit that Starlink could do a better job on who gets Starlink. I have a co-worker that lives in Nashville TN (a different state than I). He is in the suburbs and has comcast. He actually got Starlink early which is kind of funny. I’ll chalk it up that they needed someone to beta in that region.


Go Starlink Go

What about people like me work needs internet school guess what needs internet and their line stops a quarter mil down the road for fiber with 15 other houses on the same road that would be 15 households that would get it and the ISP’S in my area refused to install internet and then says they will in 2 years 12 years ago or pay 30k for it now ya go starlink do whatever the heck you want if i cam get service because viasat is shit and has bad customer service while charging an arm and a leg same to hugsnet but with worse service and the only internet i have is my phone


Not a panacea...

Where my parents live, in rural south Virginia (Blue Ridge Mountains), the only internet service they have available is CenturyLink DSL that maxes out at 1.5Mbps/256Kbps. That’s when it actually works. Most of the time it is down, or the speeds are so slow as to make even email or web browsing impossible. They tried to get StarLink but were told that due to the hills and trees, there wasn’t a good enough line-of-sight to the satellites to make it feasible. To use StarLink they’d need to move to a more treeless and flatter locale. So, how much of the country does that negate from using Starlink?


That's a weird interpretation

But a new PC Magazine survey continues to make it clear that most consumers don’t quite understand they’ll never actually have the option

The survey question was "If it became available in your area, how likely are you to switch from your current ISP to Starlink?", so this interpretation is bogus. One can’t reasonably assume anything about consumers expecting availability, because it’s only asking what they’d do if it were available. All we can say is that 76% are respondants are willing to jump ship, if only some competitor were available. A damning indictment of the broadband market, given that the respondents are "familiar with Starlink" and presumably its latency.

David Attenboroughsays:

Failed to mention new starship+new says+new star dish+

The new says they develop will have tarabits of throughput meaning likely no throttling. It works by using lasers in space basically fiber optics except the median of space is significantly faster than fiber on earth, plus new fiber tech that can use several wavelengths of light meaning multiple channels in on pulse at the same time, it will scale very well, also the new says will orbit much lower meaning of they do have an accident the pieces will burn up in the atmosphere within a year meaning no worries about any time of junk problem in space. Also the new dishes Elon has said will be much easier to produce making it so they should be able to get them to people who want them and the thing is the point of users per mile is locked by the physical placement of the sats meaning if you live in a rural area you will have access to the service meaning no worries about fan boys taking all the slot rural people who need the service will get the service no matter how many city boys try and get it Elon has already said publicly it isn’t meant for the city, but that maybe they might come up with a ground based option for cities and use dedicated Sats like they do underwater sea cables but better. Meaning cities around the world could have fiber via star link, linking them all together with tarabits of though put. Lastly starship will be an eco friendly (since it pulls carbon out of the atmosphere to make it’s fuel) cost effective option to get 150 tons worth of data in one go to orbit, meaning scaling should not be an issue and given that Elon is proving to be the king of production and is basically getting his own Samsung semi conductor plant he will not want for parts to build everything, he is quickly becoming the king of automation as well so it wouldn’t surprise me if scaling the manufacturing of the new dishes will be the main focus of the redesign. Meaning he could make them easily cheaply and quickly. I think this article has alot of intentionally omitted details that only take a bit of real journalism and google to find out. I am a sat tech for the military and have been following starling development and what they are doing with lasers could one day even be deployed to your house, we have new tech that makes it easy to fire lasers from the going to space without it being warped like it did on the past. I’m not sure if clouds will be a significant issue my guess is if they go down the laser to space route they could have the traditional radio waves as a back up if it’s cloudy, but since the entire nation is new cloudy all at once and since the military is dumping tons of funding into finding ways around the clouds, because the enemy can’t jam lasers, we might see laser space communication become the golden standard in our lifetime, as close as you can get to perfect throughput. Mark my words it could be a massive game changer, the military is already investing to arms and a leg into it, private sector always follows later.

Steven Waltersays:

I love my starlink.

All the haters complaining about "pollution" have just been sucked in by the Hughesnet narrative. They don’t want the competition. They haven’t had any in the past and it is easy to provide crappy service at a high price when you don’t have competition.

Instead of upgrading their service to stay competitive, they resort to a smear campaign and lawsuits.

Anyone with the service who isn’t capable of getting high speed internet otherwise knows it is life changing. I am thankful I was fortunate enough to jump on the beta program when it was relatively unknown.


Re: Starlink has never been marketed as such

"It’s never been said to be a "comcast killer" or whatever."

Officially, maybe not, by the hype elsewhere suggests people are thinking that.

"It’s specifically for no-served (at least at low latency) people who want any broadband."

A noble goal indeed, but while they do things like gain funding to provide service in "the Jersey City Target store", that doesn’t hold water overall

It’s great that a service is available to provide broadband to places where fibre is difficult or impossible to deploy economically. But, in reality, that’s not what the service seems to be focussed on.


Re: Starlink has never been marketed as such

Yep I pre-ordered the first day it was available, I have 1.5Mbs DSL($51 a month) nothing else is offered, I’ve even offered to have to have lines run on my dime and can’t get the time of day. This is what starlink is for people like me….btw I’m the last house that gets internet and Att will not open anymore lines for DSl or phone service, they want to get rid of all that old equipment, but they don’t want to upgrade the lines to do it….


Re: Re: Re: Re: Starlink has never been marketed as such

not a fanboi, but have starlink currently. it’s the best option where I live, and works better than options in the small town near my home. the price is comparable to other satellite services that don’t provide nearly as much functionality. I hope this service continues to expand and improve, because it removes the biggest drawback to living in the country; lack of decent internet.

Scary Devil Monasterysays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Starlink has never been marketed as such

"However, that’s wrong when facts are actually specifically on one side."

Yeah they’re on the side where they point to this being a "solution" which does not scale, isn’t sustainable, is incredibly harmful to the environment and mainly seems to serve as a way for Musk to get the money to fine-tune the capabilities of SpaceX for his hotly desired space land grab.

Musk has done some great things in pushing the envelope of imagination and will remain the historical father of the EV industry of scale. But Starlink is a dead end and not the industry we need in a time when the primary focus of every nation should be to reduce emissions in the hopes of not dumping our children into a future consisting of resource wars and mass migrations.


Re: Re: Starlink vs the Old Guard

To say there are "few" people to benefit from Starlink is pretty narrow-minded. Here in Texas, unless you live in the city or larger towns, most of us only have access to HughesNet. That is my only option and while it’s not as populated as the cities, it’s a damn big state not to mention there are others. Then if you add in the other countries…we’re not talking about anecdotal examples here.

Jon Meyersays:

Re: Looking forward to starlink

Ditto to everything you said! I’m in SW Bartholomew Co. It looks like our State government is getting serious, tho. Next Monday a site will open called the "Indiana Connectivity Program" (I can’t find a link, yet) that will allow us to ask for help. They claim to have $250 million to spend to incentivize ISPs to extend coverage to unserved households. That’s more than 5 times as much as the Biden infrastructure plan will allocate to Indiana 2 years from now! I’m less than 2 miles from the end of a coop’s fiber network, so I’ve got hope. However, I’m also on Elon’s waitlist. Good luck to you!


Re: Re: Looking forward to starlink


Thank you for the heads up. I will be sure to keep an eye on it.
I believe this is it:

I have ALOT of trees around me so satellite makes most sense for me. I know some fixed wireless ISPs are looking into using TV whitepaces for rural broadband. It’s supposed to work well for obstacles like trees. That may be an option in the future. Of course I’d love if they were able to get cable or fiber to me but not holding my breath on that one. I do have other houses around me so always possible I suppose.

Bob from Virginasays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Starlink has never been marketed as such

BTW – 30k satellites, if evenly distributed, would be 70+ miles away from each other in the sky. Not exactly "plastering the sky"

I guarantee these articles, the daily tearing down of StarLink using ridiculous arguments, are funded by current broadband industry moneys. They are all about to go extinct and this is the desperation of the entire industry. They sat on their hands for 30 years collecting way too much money, not reinvesting, and now are going bye bye


Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Starlink has never been marketed as

"I guarantee these articles, the daily tearing down of StarLink using ridiculous arguments, are funded by current broadband industry money"

Yes, nobody can have a genuine opposition to this. The sites that regularly attack and criticise the incumbent ISPs must be paid by them on this one subject!


Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Starlink has never been marketed as such

I absolutely disagree with this characterization of the article. Yes, it is light on substance, but is also short with little room for substance. I find the article refreshingly devoid of falsehood and misrepresentation, and I am usually one of the first to criticize KB when he purveys such.

That said there is plenty of unwarranted hatred and outright lying in the comment threads, but that is no reason to add to it on an opposing response.

PS Doffsays:

Re: these articles all miss the mark

Not as dumb or daft as someone who can’t conceive of technical reasons for being able to depend on a cabled system that can be taken out by one tree limb, a road rail or construction accident.

Wired cable systems are not independent of other systems and infrastructure nor are they reliable. Drop cables aren’t serviced or replaced until they fail. Intermittent problems during wet weather like jacket breaks from squirrels chewing them or trees abrading them get ignored.

Internet services are not just used for entertainment. Businesses, schools and hospitals depend on them. They are used for remote (home) medical telemetry and field coordination of emergency services.

Cellular services have many of the same physical vulnerabilities as cable. They both rely on site integrity, backbone cable continuity and local power. It doesn’t matter what "G" the cell service is, the towers ultimately connect over physical cables and those use repeater amps.

Unlike old POTS that gets powered over the wire from the local phone office, cable systems use inline amps that get power from the local power utility whose poles support both systems. When a larger area is involved, even cellular services become impaired, With a personal UPS or generator an individual subscriber can operate computer and telecom equipment during a natural disaster that takes down those lines, but if those are the only data lines to the outside world, communication is crippled.

"High speed" internet communication is needed for entertainment, not for most critical data. Speed and latency re less important to data transmission communication than reliability. Protocols can accommodate larger data blocks and fewer handshakes when transmission links are dedicated, not shared as they are with cable systems and "real time" streamed viewing isn’t needed. The Mars Rover and Voyager probe both use dedicated channel, low bandwidth, VERY high latency communication. What IS impacted by latency in an otherwise reliable system is instant gratification.

Point to point data communication between a ground station and a satellite constellation whose ground station is at a Google data center is less subject to interruptions due to weather, system equipment failure, cable breakages, local power outages, than ANY terrestrial system.


Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Starlink has never been marketed as such

"Incredibly harmful to the environment". Really? Have you ever heard the expression "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence"? You have just made and extraordinary claim with no evidence. What incredible harm are you talking about? The addition of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere? Home heating, cooling, cooking, automobiles (even electric ones, indirectly through the electricity generation), concrete production, steel procution, air journeys collectively, all individually cause orders of magnitude more carbon dioxide emission than the entire space industry put together. Stopping starlink would have almost, if not entirely, unmeasurable impact on atmospheric carbon dioxid. Materials injected into the atomosphere on burn-up on reentry? (Upper stage and satellites on end-of-life)? Meteorite put the same materisl into the atmosphere and again, orders of magnitude more. Light pollution? Forrest fire, gas cars, industrial pollution, artificial lighting all do far more than the starlink satellites. As for astronomy, it should be in space. Most electromagnetic wavelengths are completely blocked by the atmosphere (know of any terrestrial X-ray telescopes?) and even the ones that are "visible" are signigicantly diminished. Plus there are technical measures that can be taken to deal with predictable interference like unwnated satellite images.

I don’t see your "incredible harm".

As for the "primary focus" of every nation, two conceptually and technically simple acts would do more to reduce carbon dioxide emissions than everything else we are doing or planning put together. First and foremost, tax carbon emissions, and, preferably, do so according to their harm. So methane emissions would be taxed far higher than carbon dioxide as it is actually far more harmful. This would provide a powerful economic incentive to reduce or eliminate carbon dioxide emissions – in economic terms, it would internalize the externality, Next, and to my mind most importantly because of the immorality of giving them, stop all subsidies to carbon-based fossil fuels. There are currently enormous and totally unwarranted.

PS Doffsays:

Re: Re: These Comments…

It doesn’t matter who wants it.

Within the US, unlike local monopolies, Starlink is not subject to local regulations except those governing safety and construction. It does not need to provide service to anyone who asks for it and can pay for it.

It can advertise it broadly, or by word of mouth (like Tesla), and accept customers using whatever metrics it choses. So long as they are included in whatever zones the FCC has given them a mandate or reward for serving they can grow their business any way they want.


Re: World

No, it can’t help 3 billion people: "the service may be able to scale to 6 million users over a period of many years, he also notes that guess is extremely optimistic, and will require a significantly updated fleet of 42,000 satellites to achieve."

Unless they’re planning to launch and maintain a fleet of 20 million satellites. I haven’t heard of any such plans.


Re: Re: Re: Starlink vs the Old Guard

To say there are "few" people to benefit from Starlink is pretty narrow-minded.

No, it’s factual.

"Between 20 and 42 million Americans lack access to broadband entirely… In turn, Starlink is going to reach somewhere between 300,000 to 800,000 subscribers in its first few years."

So that could maybe solve 4% of one portion of the problem, and that’s only considering the US. Like you said, there are millions upon millions of people who could do with better (or some) broadband, and Starlink is going to serve a very tiny slice of them.

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